Mayoral candidates tackle tough issues in Press debate

Mayoral candidates tackle tough issues in Press debate
CALEDONIA—Behind the camera were many professionals working hard to ensure the debate live streamed smoothly to the community. Behind them sat over 200 residents who joined the debate in person following the hour-long meet and greet session, during which people could meet with candidates directly and councillor candidates were given two minutes each to make a statement on the live stream. Online, the videos have seen more than 2,000 views since the event. —Haldimand Press staff photo.

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

      HALDIMAND—With the municipal election on our doorstep, The Haldimand Press hosted a Mayoral Debate and Candidate Meet & Greet on Wednesday, October 12, 2022. The night, done in partnership with the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, Windecker Road Films, the Caledonia Chamber of Commerce, and the Caledonia Lions, saw all five mayoral candidates take on over a dozen questions about the important issues facing Haldimand over the next four years.

      Below are some excerpts from the debate, which was moderated by former CHCH news personality Connie Smith.

      On his vision for promoting Haldimand County as a tourist destination, candidate Dick Passmore said, “I really want to see us celebrate the uniqueness of our communities,” noting that attracting tourism to Haldimand’s towns is reliant on developing more affordable housing, thereby attracting more businesses and more people.

      Mayor Ken Hewitt listed off some of the investments the County has made under his tenure: “The river and the lake presents a unique opportunity for Haldimand County. Through our branding and our advertising, we have done tremendously in the last four, five years to bring people to Haldimand County,” adding that the County will continue to seek cost-effective, innovative recreational opportunities, listing the popular disc golf courses in Caledonia and Jarvis as examples.

      Candidate Shelley Ann Bentley added, “We need to provide more parks, more green space for our residents here.”

      “In all honesty, I wouldn’t undo the work that’s already been done,” said candidate Jenn Gilmour, praising County staff for their efforts. “I would collaborate with them and move it forward.”

      “There’s some room for improvement on some of the assets they’re promoting,” countered candidate Jake Vandendool, listing an interlinked trail system, more local accommodation options, and upgrading existing County facilities as areas for improvement.

      On the issue of a lack of physicians in Haldimand: “This is a really difficult question,” said Gilmour, noting the issue goes beyond our borders. “It’s something we so desperately need. As our community grows there will be more people moving in and all we can hope is that it attracts some interest…. To be honest, I don’t know if it’s something we could see a huge improvement on in the next four years.”

      While Hewitt called the remoteness of the County a deterrent to physicians, he shared a plan to raise money through the private sector to set up an endowment fund that would help physicians coming to Haldimand get set up: “I truly believe we have a plan, and we can make it happen in the next four years. I’m excited about it.”

      Vandendool called signing bonuses a “flash in the pan” technique, adding, “You need something that is going to keep them here. These doctors have families and they want to live just like us. They want to live in a community that we would want to live in. They’re looking for those amenities.”

      Passmore believes a new approach should be taken: “I suggest we work forward, combined with our hospitals and Provincial counterparts, to look at things we can do to attract community health centres … including a community hub which allows doctors, nurse practitioners, and frontline workers to be all together in the same place to provide a wrap-around service,” said Passmore. “The old way isn’t working. We need to look to the future and look to new alternatives.”

      Bentley said, “I would seek out healthcare workers while they’re in the university and college system and introduce them to Haldimand County and what we have to offer here.”

      On how he would keep the County’s finances stable during uncertain economic times, Hewitt said his track record speaks for itself: “Moving into the next four years, I’m confident we can manage taxes, maintain that 2% increase, and minimize its effect on the capital budget.”

      Passmore argued he would be willing to pay tax increases for worthwhile expenditures: “Our reserves are there as a result of good money management by those who are there, in charge of those funds. We do need to look at a slight increase to fund some of the changes we have coming in…. There are a lot of things we can do within a very limited tax increase that will help us to move forward without having to bring in a major development and influx of people that is going to be a drain on some of our other reserves.”

      Vandendool referenced a recent County recreational survey, stating, “62% of respondents actually said they were okay with a tax increase if that meant they were going to get an indoor pool.… I don’t think anybody is looking to start jacking taxes up for an indoor pool, but people are more comfortable with tax increases if it’s justified, and it’s not a surprise.”

      Bentley said staying financially stable means reigning in development, in particular the potential Nanticoke development: “If we grow and double our population, what will more people cost us?” asked Bentley. “What will the doubling of our population really cost with an increase in ambulances, increase in doctors, schools, there’s infrastructure issues that would need to be dealt with. I’m all for growth, but we need to control the growth.”

      Gilmour said the County should consider raising development charges to generate additional revenue to offset rising costs: “We are going to have recurring costs year over year that are going to increase whether we want them to or not. Staffing costs will only increase. If we continue to go back to our administration and ask them to find savings somewhere, then we’re at a point where they’re not able to do their jobs. We need, as a County, to find ways to generate revenue to go back in the levy so we can keep our taxes at 2%.”

      Find the full debate, including responses on important issues such as “smart growth”, Indigenous relations, road infrastructure, policing, and more, on The Haldimand Press’ YouTube channel. A second video includes two-minute statements from councillor candidates who attended the event.

      Over 200 residents attended The Haldimand Press’ debate in person at the Caledonia Lions Community Centre, with over 2,000 views for the live stream and recorded videos since.

      The election will take place October 24. The Press encourages all readers to get informed and vote. For more information on how to vote, visit